Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC
Back in 2009, the original Modern Warfare 2 arrived like a lightning bolt. Building off the success of its predecessor, which had been the first in the Call Of Duty series not to be set in World War II, MW2 captivated players with a mix of explosive Michael Bay-hem and grittily realistic combat missions, with a plot trading on the paranoias and fears of a decade still drowning in the global ‘War On Terror’. It was a bona fide hit, bordering on phenomenon, and was arguably the game that cemented Call Of Duty as the mega-franchise it is.
The new Modern Warfare II – note the switch to Roman numerals in a vague attempt to avoid confusion – doesn’t have the same impact, nor will it likely attract the same controversy the original did for its “No Russian” level. Continuing from 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot, the campaign for developer Infinity Ward’s latest revamp features a bombastic plot involving Russian-backed Iranian terrorists, mobile missile launchers, and terrorist attacks, all wrapped up in a layer of shady geopolitics that wouldn’t feel amiss in a modern Bond film.
Despite it all feeling very repetitive, the signature action setpieces remain spectacular.
Players switch between members of Task Force 141 through the course of the game, which includes returning series stalwarts Ghost and Soap. It never really feels like any of them have particular skills or specialities that the game is showcasing though, since in the moment of each mission, any one of the core cast could be behind the first person view. That said, COD once again excels at weapon feel, with every gun offering a noticeably different experience in heft, recoil, accuracy, and rate of fire. The advanced haptics on PS5’s DualSense controller (version tested) add enormously to this sense of immersion too, with a satisfying level of resistance to pulling the trigger, and variable rumble in response.
However, while there are some standout missions that mix the familiar Call Of Duty experience up – in particular ‘Wetwork’, an early game sequence set amidst Amsterdam’s canals, where you emerge from the murky water like a Spec Ops Jaws, taking down enemies with well-aimed knife throws – and a notable shift towards Metal Gear Solid-esque stealth action at points, much of Modern Warfare II feels like a remix. It’s more variations of the same experiences and setpieces the series has offered almost on repeat over the last two decades.
Despite it all feeling very repetitive in execution, the series’ signature action sequences remain spectacular. Epic car chases, prisoner rescues, upside-down shootouts from a helicopter – Call Of Duty’s penchant for going ridiculously over the top is as intact as ever. In many places, Modern Warfare II is the best action movie you’ll watch all year. Those setpieces are more than matched by brilliantly-written and -performed cutscenes that give the likes of 24 a run for their money (fittingly, 24’s Glenn Morshower plays General Shepard here).
It all looks gorgeous in-game too, of course – although you’d rightly expect nothing else, given the size of the development teams and sheer investment on Call Of Duty these days. Still, both the meticulously-recreated real world locations of the campaign and the more fanciful interpretations used for maps in multiplayer are visually spectacular, further cementing the series at the apex of realistic shooters. Of small but particular note is how authentic the game looks through its various filters – night vision goggles, for instance – which are at a level almost indistinguishable from the sort of footage you’d see in Hollywood’s biggest budget military blockbusters.
Yet no amount of eye candy can detract from the feeling that Modern Warfare II is little more than a glitzed-up take on a 13-year-old game. More egregiously, it’s the latest entry in a series that increasingly feels like it simply shuffles the deck of influences, themes, and gameplay mechanics each year. Perhaps it’s time for Call Of Duty to abandon the annual release cycle and shift entirely to an Overwatch-style game-as-service model. Whether it ever does or not, this is more of the same for an embedded audience that knows exactly what it’s getting with each new entry. To quote Talking Heads, “same as it ever was”.